david perell writing

Writing for Leverage, Teenage Billionaires, The Problem with Mainstream Media, and More – David Perell on Off the Chain, Hosted By Anthony Pompliano

Check out the Off the Chain Podcast Page

Key Takeaways

  • You don’t need a gigantic following to turn your social currency into financial currency
    • “I think people are under-estimating how much action you can drive with a relatively small number of people, as long as those people think you’re unique and differentiated, and they have a similar way of seeing the world—a certain kind of belief structure.” – David Perell
  • In today’s world, writing is one of the highest leverage things a human can do 
  • Be an idea archivist
    • Instead of always searching for new ideas, realize there’s a lot of virtue to going back in time and looking at the ideas that have been forgotten
  • The 3-step process for changing your career
    • 1) Pick a small, growing market that’s under-estimated
    • 2) Learn obsessively about that industry 
    • 3) Finally, share as much as you can by writing online
  • “People wrongly think that you need to be an expert to write about something. No. Writing is the way that you learn about the thing that you then become an expert in.” – David Perell
  • “I would put money on there being a billionaire teenager by 2030” – David Perell

Books Mentioned


The Backstory

  • David and Pomp met in 2016 at a Starbucks (on 28th and 3rd) in NYC, right around the time when David was thinking of starting a podcast

How David Landed First Job

  • In college, while skipping class during a rainy day, David wrote up a spur-of-the-moment Twitter thread on the future of media
    • At the time, David wanted to work for Laundry Service after college, a social media ad agency that represented the likes of Apple and Beats by Dre. As luck had it, their CEO saw the thread, reached out to David via Twitter DM, and offered him a job in NY (which David ended up taking after he graduated).

Build a Business Around Your Audience

  • One of Laundry Services’ taglines: “People are becoming media companies”
    • Building off this, the company encouraged clients to run ads, not with traditional media companies, but with people —athletes, celebrities, etc.—who’s reach could then be utilized for distribution
    • David adds: “When I was there, I began to realize it wasn’t that people were media companies, it was that people were companies.”
      • “I always had this sense —and still do —that reach is absolutely underrated; not necessarily the celebrity kind of reach, but more about influence —access to people who are thinking on your wavelength because it’s getting easier and easier to take that audience and build a business around it.”
      • The takeaways:
        • Take your social currency and turn it into a financial currency
        • Or, said differently: Take your celebrity (AKA awareness) and turn it into influence (driving action)

🎧 But don’t you need a massive following to convert your celebrity into influence?

  • “I think people are under-estimating how much action you can drive with a relatively small number of people, as long as those people think you’re unique and differentiated, and they have a similar way of seeing the world —a certain kind of belief structure.” – David Perell

Lessons from Casey Neistat

  • Back in college, David used to regularly watch Casey Neistat’s daily vlogs
    • “It moved me to watch somebody who was obviously doing what they wanted to be doing. Casey Neistat really hits my soul when I talk about him.” – David Perell
  • “You can know that something is the future long before the world actually accepts that it is. There’s a kind of dogged persistence that I admire from people who have a belief —a definite vision about what the world will look like —and they show up day, after day, after day, even though they get beaten down by the world.”
    • One of those people: Casey, who pioneered the act of daily vlogging
    • Pomp adds: “It’s not how many people believe it; it’s how deep the conviction is.”
      • So, say 1% of the world’s population believes something, but they really believe it – this makes it much easier to imagine everyone else one day believing the same thing
  • For those who aren’t familiar with Casey’s background:
    • He had his first kid when he was in high school
    • He ran away from home as a high schooler (and never went to college)
    • His first job was a dishwasher in NYC

Writing is the Highest Leverage Human Activity

  • 🎧 “I believe that writing is the biggest source of leverage that’s also open to everybody. Anyone with an internet connection, access to ideas, and the time to sit down and put their fingers on glass can publish something and reach the world with it.” David Perell
  • “I grew up feeling like I was stupid and wasn’t going to go anywhere. It was because the whole traditional system didn’t work for me. I would go to class, but I can’t memorize things… I’m not good at following directions… I felt this desperate yearning for the first two decades of my life —this feeling of perpetual inadequacy.” – David Perell
    • But: “It was through writing that some of the things I had always felt were weaknesses actually became strengths I could embrace.” 
  • “Words on a page just have infinite patience. By writing, you become smarter.” – David Perell
    • How so? – The ideas you’d once have to hold in your head can be out-sourced to the page, allowing you to soak deeper into those ideas
  • “I love ideas. I’m desperate; I have this yearning, hunger, and thirst for new ideas —new ways of looking at the world. But until I started writing, I wasn’t able to meet people who I could share that with.”David Perell

Be an Idea Archivist

  • Through his writing, David has been able to meet some remarkable people, including Patrick Collison of Stripe
    • “I think of Patrick as an idea archivist. So often, we’re looking for the next new thing. What I’ve learned from Patrick, is that there’s a lot of virtue to going back in time and looking at the ideas that have been forgotten.” David Perell
  • One of those forgotten ideas: Over the last 200 years, we’ve shifted from a space bias to a time bias 
    • In 1820, if you wanted to discover a new idea, you’d probably sail to a new continent 
    • But now: Tech, phones, and social media create what David calls an “ever-ending now” (99%+ of what people consume is stuff produced in the last 24 hours)
      • “If you were to go back to a library in 1820, the vast majority of those ideas would have been produced at least a decade before, or hundreds of years ago.” – David Perell
    • The lesson: Because of the above, the way to find good ideas is to go back in time 

Building a Second Brain

  • This online course from Tiago Forte, primarily about the art of note-taking, changed David’s life:
    • How so?
      • The biggest thing holding people back from improving their writing is having a sound note-taking system (a sound note-taking system makes writing about your ideas much easier)
      • Digital note-taking allows you to save all your ideas for the rest of your life
        • As the number of your stored notes increases linearly, the number of connections you can make between them increases exponentially

Write of Passage, David’s Online Writing Course

  • The idea for the course was sparked with a simple tweet David put out, saying he wanted to help 1,000 people start writing online in 2019
    • After consulting with Tiago, whose course David particularly enjoyed, and hours of filming with a Hollywood film crew, David has a final product: A scalable writing course that utilizes pre-recorded video content and a helpful social community of writers (the latter being what separates Write of Passage from other online courses)
      • “That community is like a suspension bridge. Everyone can support each other, and when times get difficult, the whole community comes together. Not only are we teaching people how to write together, but we’re producing friendships that would never have been created.” – David Perell
  • “What we’re really teaching people to do—and writing is the mechanism through which we’re doing this —is how to become citizens of the internet”David Perell
    • “We don’t just teach people how to write; we teach them how to actually think about their personal monopoly… What is the unique combination of skills and personality traits that you’ll be known for? How are you going to use the internet to reach out, connect with anybody, build an online home, and use advance your career?”

The 3-Step Process for Changing Your Career

  • 1) Pick a small, growing market that’s under-estimated
  • 2) Learn obsessively about that industry
  • 3) Finally, share as much as you can by writing online

You Don’t Need to Be an Expert

  • “People wrongly think that you need to be an expert to write about something. No. Writing is the way that you learn about the thing that you then become an expert in.” – David Perell

🎧 Evaluate Your Writing (and Ideas) with CRIBS

  • Confusing: If something’s confusing, re-write it
  • Repeated: If something’s repeated, delete it
  • Insightful: If something’s insightful, talk more about it
  • Boring: If something’s boring, delete it or re-write it
  • Surprising: “All good writing has a twist-a kind of moment when something begins to change. Just like a horror movie, you build up that suspense and flip it.” – David Perell

Share Your Writing

  • “To me, one of the things I enjoy about writing… is that when you write something and put it out into the world, what you’re actually doing is eliciting feedback, critique, and agreement.” – Anthony Pompliano
    • And the best part: That feedback further refines your ideas
  • By sharing your writing: “You’re putting signals out into the world that you earnestly think are accurate, but at the same time, you’re humbled by the fact that the actual wisdom of your readers is more intelligent than you are, but you become more intelligent as a result of their feedback” – David Perell

Why is the ability to write and share ideas effectively important?

  • “One of the great tragedies of the last five years is that many of the world’s smartest people are no longer sharing their ideas in public” – David Perell
    • One example: Marc Andreessen
      • “Marc Andreessen was the guy that got me interested in ideas. Junior year in college, I was following Marc Andreessen on Twitter, and I remember thinking, I could either go to class, or I could read Marc Andreessen’s thoughts in my pocket.” – David Perell
  • 🎧 Many people have imposter syndrome about sharing their ideas through writing and think that the act of doing so is somewhat arrogant
    • “What I tell them, time and again, is that it’s arrogant for you to do the hard work of learning things and not share it with the world. This world progresses when people share ideas. Look around you. Everything was built by people who came before you, and every single thing was somebody’s obsession… It’s arrogant to have ideas in your brain that could move the world forward and not codify them so the world can benefit.”David Perell

Mainstream Media is Broken

  • “A lot of the narrative around media is that it’s given us truth. I don’t think the media has ever given us truth. The media has given us consensus; they’re very different things.”David Perell
    • Think about it using the example of rowers in a boat:
      • With 2 or 3 rowers, everyone can row at their own pace and get the job done
      • But, if a boat has 10 people, you need someone shouting directions (AKA the media)
  • The media landscape has changed:
    • “Rather than everyone looking up to the pulpit of The New York Times, what we have much more of is individuals, people with millions of followers —like PewDiePie, who has more reach on YouTube than any brand or corporation…Nobody really knows where to look. There’s nobody at the front, and it seems like we have this cacophony of noise, and as a result, we don’t have the same kind of consensus we had during the post-WWII era.”
      • Another example: Joe Rogan, who gets ~1 MM views for every video he posts on YouTube – there are very few TV shows in American that hit these numbers

Over the Next Decade, Top-Tier Journalists Will Get Paid What They’re Worth

  • A reporter at a big-3 media company in NY told David: “Sometimes, it’s my job to write faster than I can think. I have to write, some days, between 5 and 7 articles a day. I’m exhausted, and it frustrates me that page views is the biggest thing I’m evaluated on.”
    • “If that sentence doesn’t capture the essence of what media is right now, I don’t know what does.” – David Perell 
  • David estimates that Bill Bishop (who used to be a traditional reporter at Axios, but now writes a Substack newsletter called Sinocism about China), makes $1-1.2 MM/year, based on his subscriptions
  • An interesting theory: We’re entering an age where top-tier journalists are finally going to get paid what they’re worth by branching off and doing their own thing (like Bill Bishop)
    • Another example: Ben Thompson, creator of the Stratechery newsletter
    • “We’re living in a world right now where journalism is seen as not a good way to make money. I predict that, by the end of the decade, they’ll be hundreds of journalists making millions of dollars per year.”David Perell

Is journalism’s ad-supported model the problem?

  • You may think so, but realize that the ad-supported models of Twitter and Facebook enable information to be free
    • “Free information liberates so many people. Information is something you use to learn about the world; it gives you access to things you wouldn’t normally have access to.” – David Perell
    • “If advertising doesn’t democratize information, I don’t know what does.” – David Perell
    • SO many people are able to start their learning journies because of free information
      • “Advertising is important because it gives information to people who don’t have the means to pay for it.” – David Perell

We’ll Soon See Teenage Billionaires

  • “I would put money on there being a billionaire teenager by 2030” – David Perell
    • How so? – “It’s getting easier and easier to start a big company with just your computer”
  • Examples:
    • When WhatsApp was sold to Facebook for $19 billion, they only had ~55 engineers
    • Andy McCune recently sold a company to SquareSpace at 24 (the acquisition price isn’t public yet)
      • Andy also runs the Earth Instagram account, which has 1.5 MM followers (and he started it in high school!)
    • Vitalik Buterin created Ethereum in his young 20s and is now worth hundreds of millions
  • The point: “You’re seeing the early signs of tremendous wealth created by younger and younger people. You could almost build a billion-dollar company from the phone in your pocket.”David Perell

Distribution, Then Product

  • There’s a shift in how companies are being built:
    • The old way: Build the product, then worry about distribution
    • Now: Build the distribution, then build the product
      • (Young teens are building MASSIVE audiences on Instagram and TikTok)

The New American Dream

  • It’s getting harder and harder for millennials to out-earn their parents by following a traditional path
  • But, as mentioned above, it’s getting easier and easier to start a company
    • Nowadays, you don’t need to be a software engineer to run a software-enabled business

Cities Are a Merry-Go-Round (But Lack Community)

  • In these Podcast Notes, David stated: “Cities are merry-go-rounds… You’re in something together with people, and you expend very little energy to go fairly fast.”
  • “The economic returns to being in cities are increasing” – David Perell
    • ~50% of American growth in 2019 came from the top 5 (it could be 25?) American cities
  • That said: “Cities, while they’re good for economic opportunity, are not good for community. I have felt, at times, especially during my first two years in NY, tremendous bouts of loneliness. It was really hard for me to meet people. In order to go hang out with friends tonight, I have to take a 40-minute subway ride. It’s bizarre how you can walk down 5th avenue at 6:30 at night, and you have thousands of people you’re looking at, and yet, somehow, you feel like you’re in your own echo chamber.”- David Perell
    • “The ultimate question that I have: how can we create cities that are big enough to give people economic opportunity, but small enough to give people love and others in their lives that touch their hearts?”

David is Bullish on Bitcoin

  • “I am super bullish on Bitcoin. I fundamentally believe Bitcoin is going to be a very transformative part of the next 30 years…. I just know crypto is the future…. At least Bitcoin; I really believe in Bitcoin.” David Perell
    • Why?
      • “Two people, who come to the top of my mind, told me this week that America’s doomed. You have the American currency, which has basically run the world since the Bretton Woods Conference after WWII, and people no longer have that same trust.”
    • That said, David doesn’t own Bitcoin
      • One reason why: He thinks the rate of return he can get from investing in Write of Passage is higher
      • Also, the process of buying Bitcoin is quite complicated

The Most Important Book David’s Ever Read

Additional Notes

  • David is an avid golfer
  • David graduated from college, where he majored in journalism, with a 2.8 GPA
  • “There’s a major business opportunity that will exist for the next very many years, which is productized consulting” David Perell
  • In 2007, half of Harvard graduates went into either investment banking or management consulting
  • “If you don’t know what company you want to start, the best thing to do is start writing online” – David Perell
  • Data shows that the rate at which people are starting new companies is decreasing
  • Pomp has read every one of Howard Marks’ investor memos
  • In David’s 3rd cohort of Write of Passage, 6 months after it began, he had 196 students from 28 countries
    • David’s second-biggest market (besides the US)? – India
  • In 1950, 5 of the 10 wealthiest cities in America were in the state of Michigan; now, none are
  • 50% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck 
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